Diabetes during pregnancy: what puts babies at risk of diabetes too?
A doctor based at Imperial College London is hoping a new study funded by children’s charity Action Medical Research will help towards identifying babies at highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Dr Karen Logan has been awarded a prestigious Research Training Fellowship of £189,234 to investigate how a mother’s diabetes during pregnancy affects her baby. Up to 40,000 babies are born to mothers who suffered from diabetes during pregnancy each year in the UK.1,2
Babies born to mothers who suffer from diabetes during pregnancy are at least four times more likely than other babies to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.3 However, there is no way to predict which of these babies will actually develop diabetes.
Although type 2 diabetes is most typically diagnosed during adulthood, it is now more frequently being diagnosed in children. “I think that prevention is key to reducing the burden of type 2 diabetes,” says Dr Logan. The research is analysing babies’ ‘metabolic fingerprints’ and could take us an important step closer to the ultimate goals of prediction and prevention for this increasing problem.
The condition has serious long-term health consequences, bringing an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, vision loss, and kidney disease. It also impacts on the day-to-day quality of life of those children affected.
“Learning to cope with type 2 diabetes is a big task for any child or young person,” explains Dr Logan. “High blood glucose can make children feel unwell and cause difficulties with concentration. The children may need to monitor their blood glucose, consider their food choices and remember any medications or insulin injections. Simple things, such as playing sports, or going on a school trip, may need careful planning. Type 2 diabetes can make children feel different from their classmates, it can cause emotional and behavioural challenges, and it can lead to poor confidence and low mood.”
Dr Logan is comparing babies born to mothers who developed diabetes during pregnancy with mothers who did not. “I’m analysing the babies’ ‘metabolic fingerprints’ – using sophisticated techniques to assess the pattern of hundreds of naturally occurring substances in urine”, she explains. “The babies are also having short, 15-minute MRI scans, while asleep, so that I can assess how much body fat they have and where it’s located, as well as the amount of fat in the liver.”
Dr Logan is committed to tackling type 2 diabetes. “I am thrilled to be offered this fellowship with Action Medical Research”, says Dr Logan. “My long-term aim is to find ways to identify children at risk of type 2 diabetes and develop interventions that reduce children’s chances of developing the condition.”
Dr Caroline Johnston, Research Evaluation Manager with Action Medical Research, said: “The Research Training Fellowship scheme is the cornerstone of Action Medical Research’s commitment to develop the research expertise and skills of the future.”
“By giving the brightest and best doctors and researchers the chance to train in research techniques early in their career, we are helping to ensure that the first-rate medical research work that Action Medical Research has become synonymous with will continue for a long time to come.”
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
Case study: Ava Isabella (Chiswick)
Liana was diagnosed with gestational diabetes after her routine glucose intolerance test at 24 weeks pregnant. Doctors recommended Liana be induced at 38 weeks to ensure her baby didn’t get too big to deliver naturally.
“Our little girl, Ava Isabella, is my first child. Unfortunately, the induction didn't work as planned and we had to resort to an emergency caesarean section as Ava's heart rate had become irregular and she was in distress,” says Liana.
“I had to monitor my blood sugar levels three times a day for the next three months. Thankfully I was able to control the diabetes through diet alone and didn't have to resort to insulin injections,” Liana says.
Liana and husband Ben agreed to get involved in Dr Logan’s research: “We were curious to see if the gestational diabetes had any effect on our daughter, and we were so grateful for the service and care we received in Chelsea and Westminster hospital that we wanted to give something back,” she says.
Ava Isabella is now nearly five months old and is developing well compared with other babies her age. She's happy, healthy and, “super smiley,” says her mum.
“It was a pleasure to be involved in the research and I would do it again if I was asked to. Her dad and I are so grateful that our daughter Ava is healthy and we hope that babies born to other mothers who suffer gestational diabetes can benefit in the future from Dr Karen Logan’s research – hoping to find ways to identify children at risk of type 2 diabetes and reduce their chances of developing the condition. And it’s great that the charity Action Medical Research has made this possible.”
1. Office for National Statistics. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons
2. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Diabetes in pregnancy. March 2008. http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/pdf/CG063Guidance.pdf. Website accessed 8 March 2012
3. Dabelea D et al. Intrauterine exposure to diabetes conveys risks for type 2 diabetes and obesity: a study of discordant sibships. Diabetes 2000; 49:2208-11.
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Action Medical Research - the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children - is celebrating 60 years of vital research in 2012. We’ve been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 and have spent more than £100 million on research that has helped save thousands of children’s lives and changed many more.
Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:
• tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
• helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
• targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.
But there is still so much more to do. Make 2012 a special year and help fund more life-changing research for some of the UK’s sickest babies and children.